Human Rights Watch today urged the Italian authorities to deny the asylum request of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK), noting that those believed responsible for crimes against humanity are ineligible for asylum under international law.

In a letter sent to Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, Human Rights Watch called upon Italy to prosecute Ocalan for abuses he committed during the 14-year conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government. If Italy does not prosecute, it should extradite Ocalan to another country that will undertake the prosecution in accordance with international law, the letter said.
The letter also praised yesterday's decision by the Italian government not to extradite Ocalan to Turkey to stand trial, where Human Rights Watch noted a substantial risk he would face torture and possibly the death penalty.

Ocalan was arrested by Italian police last Friday, November 13. The Turkish government requested his extradition to Turkey to stand trial. Turkey's request was denied yesterday, and Ocalan was released from detention on the condition that he remain in Rome. Meanwhile, the Italian authorities are considering Ocalan's request for political asylum.

In its letter, Human Rights Watch recounted that between 1992 and 1995, the height of the conflict, Ocalan's PKK is believed to have been responsible for at least 768 extrajudicial executions, mostly of civil servants and teachers, political opponents, off-duty police officers and soldiers, and those deemed by the PKK to be "state supporters."

In addition, the PKK committed numerous large-scale massacres of civilians, usually against villagers or villages that somehow were connected with the state civil defense "village guard system." In twenty-five such massacres committed between 1992-1995 and listed in an attachment to the Human Rights Watch letter, 360 people were killed, including thirty-nine women and seventy-six children. These actions were not committed by rogue units or commanders, but were PKK official policy.

While urging accountability for these abuses, Human Rights Watch praised the decision to deny Turkey's extradition request. "Turkey still has the death penalty on the books, and its use of torture has been well-documented by international and non-governmental organizations," said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "But it is a shocking injustice for Italy to simply release Ocalan. In Italy or another jurisdiction where he can be assured a free and fair trial, he must be held accountable for the wanton killing of innocent civilians."